Speaking at the inaugural World Conference on Tourism and Culture in Siem Reap yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen praised the tourism sector’s role in boosting Cambodia’s economic growth and reducing poverty.
Tourism injected $3 billion into Cambodia’s economy last year, a figure Hun Sen predicted would rise to $5 billion by 2020.
He added that the estimated 600,000 Cambodians who earn a living off the tourism industry today would increase to 800,000 by 2020.
But many challenges remain to be tackled, Hun Sen said.
“Cambodia faces issues such as a lack of cooperation between authorities and the people, a lack of experience to prepare projects related to tourism and culture, a lack of general knowledge of the tourism sector, and a lack of human resources.”
Cambodia received 4.5 million international tourists last year, a number expected to rise to 5 million in 2015 and 7.5 million by 2020.
Despite the rising numbers, Hun Sen explained that Cambodia needed to have more cultural events such as the Angkor Sangkran festival, which is celebrated as part of Khmer New Year in Siem Reap and is in its third year running.
“We need more events like that in order to attract more tourists and at the same time we can show our culture to them.”
The World Conference on Tourism and Culture is hosted in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO).
Its aim is to promote cultural tourism in a way that reduces associated risks and benefits local communities.
“Sustainably managed, tourism can be a considerable force for the promotion and safeguarding of the tangible and intangible heritage it relies on, while encouraging the development of arts, crafts and other creative activities,” read a statement on the event’s website.
Irina Bokavo, director general of UNESCO, said the conference’s overarching goal was to create a “positive dynamic” between culture and tourism, warning that ongoing issues such as artefact trafficking needed to be stopped.
“I hope all [the members of the conference] will work together on this matter,” she said.
According to the UNWTO, over 1.1 billion tourists travelled abroad in 2014, a 4.7 per cent increase from the year before.
At a 5 per cent increase, the Asia-Pacific region received the second strongest growth in tourism numbers.
The conference, which 98 countries are participating in, runs from February 4 to 6.